Skip to main content

Green Lantern’s Light

adams At Slate’s Green Lantern blog, Nina Shen Rastogi takes a judicious look at nuclear energy, writing a bit like a person trying to understand the pros and cons.:

I thought nuclear reactors were an absolute no-go for environmentalists. But I keep hearing them touted as a clean energy source. What are nuclear energy's green credentials?

Here’s a pro:

For all this, it's worth noting that uranium is a very efficient energy source: One ton of natural uranium can produce the same number of kilowatt-hours as 16,000 tons of coal or 80,000 barrels of oil.

Here’s a con:

Advocates are fond of noting that nuclear power provides 70 percent of the country's "carbon-free" energy. But nuclear energy isn't really a zero-carbon system, since you still have to build power plants, mine and enrich uranium, and transport processed fuel, all of which typically rely on CO2-emitting fuel sources.

But she understands that we’ve got to live in the world as it is and this is how it is. However, those activities that rely on electricity can be done where it is supplied by nuclear energy – a net positive.

Conclusion:

The Lantern doesn't find herself particularly freaked out by atomic energy.

Well, that’s good.

After all, isn't the notion that you don't bequeath problems to your descendants a major tenet of environmentalism? At the same time, global warming is itself a dire legacy, and every energy technology has its pitfalls. So if nuclear power can play a role in cooling our planet, the Lantern thinks it deserves to stay on the table.

Nicely done, especially for the nuclear-dubious. Do read the whole thing.

---

The energy that power’s Green Lantern’s lantern has never really been completely pinned down. We do know that it emits radiation and that the color yellow is as effective against it as lead is against other kinds of radiation. Here’s as good an explanation as any from the Green Lantern wiki (you knew there had to be one):

The Central Power Battery, also known as the Great Power Battery, was built by the immortal Guardians of the Universe after they had abandoned their homeworld of Maltus and settled on the planet Oa. This massive device served as a reservoir for all of their combined cosmic power which was based on the Green Light of Will in the Emotional Spectrum and was an edifice created from a single crystal. At some point in its early history, the Guardians captured the fear elemental known as the Parallax Entity and trapped it within the Central Power Battery. This the cosmic being dormant but also created a "yellow impurity" which prevented future Oan constructs from functioning properly on objects coated in the color yellow.

I think the explanation for the yellow impurity was introduced later. Creators John Broome and Gil Kane, in 1961, likely wanted to create a hero infused with the potentials of nuclear energy, as filtered through 50s science fiction, and yellow was a stand in for lead (as well as a hedge against making their hero unbeatable.)

Like most DC comics and characters of that time – The Atom (who  can shrink to the size of an atom), The Flash and Adam Strange - Green Lantern is borne of scientific principle infused with imagination and speaks to the fantasies and dreams of kids raised during the atomic age, the space race and the strong push for scientific education and achievement undertaken by the Kennedy administration.

So The Green Lantern, which is used by Slate for its environmental blog, might be better suited for a blog about nuclear energy or science in general.(Swamp Thing might be better for an environmental column.) But that’s all right. If it leads people to Green Lantern, good enough.

One of the most famous of comic book covers: the end of the Broome-Kane appreciation of science and the beginning of doubt in social institutions, including scientific ones, courtesy Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams. Welcome to the seventies.

Comments

JD said…
"But nuclear energy isn't really a zero-carbon system, since you still have to build power plants, mine and enrich uranium, and transport processed fuel, all of which typically rely on CO2-emitting fuel sources."

The best part about this is, by relying more on nuclear power, the amount of CO2-emitting fuel sources needed to enrich uranium will decrease, since enrichment just needs electricity and doesn't care from whence that electricity comes. (As long as it's cheap and reliable.)

But anyway, good luck with that magic process that generates wind turbines and solar panels with no carbon footprint.

Or transporting them:
http://blog.energy.gov/blog/2010/07/27/kahuku-wind-power-7700-oahu-homes

Or installing those transmission lines:
http://blog.energy.gov/blog/2010/08/02/skycrane-bonneville-power-administration

...Nothing is a zero-carbon system. If nuclear's tiny lifecycle carbon footprint is a drawback, then there is no hope for any electricity source.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d3/Greenhouse_emissions_by_electricity_source.PNG
Anonymous said…
You mean you actually need to build wind turbines and solar panels? Gee, I thought they just sprung full-grown out of the mud of the Earth...
Brian Mays said…
"You mean you actually need to build wind turbines and solar panels? Gee, I thought they just sprung full-grown out of the mud of the Earth..."

Well, that's obviously what the developers want you to think. Why else do you think that they call them "wind farms"?

If there was any way to have those things declared Certified Organic, I'm willing to bet they would do so. For now, they'll just have to wait until the organic solar cell catches on.

Popular posts from this blog

A Billion Miles Under Nuclear Energy (Updated)

And the winner is…Cassini-Huygens, in triple overtime.

The spaceship conceived in 1982 and launched fifteen years later, will crash into Saturn on September 15, after a mission of 19 years and 355 days, powered by the audacity and technical prowess of scientists and engineers from 17 different countries, and 72 pounds of plutonium.

The mission was so successful that it was extended three times; it was intended to last only until 2008.

Since April, the ship has been continuing to orbit Saturn, swinging through the 1,500-mile gap between the planet and its rings, an area not previously explored. This is a good maneuver for a spaceship nearing the end of its mission, since colliding with a rock could end things early.

Cassini will dive a little deeper and plunge toward Saturn’s surface, where it will transmit data until it burns up in the planet’s atmosphere. The radio signal will arrive here early Friday morning, Eastern time. A NASA video explains.

In the years since Cassini has launc…

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…